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New from the Bad Plus and two great jazz singers with golden DNA

Jazz

The Bad Plus, “It’s Hard” (SONY/Okeh). The photography on the group’s 14th disc is certainly cool. And there’s nothing wrong with the repertoire either. Says Bad Plus drummer Dave King “after several years of focusing largely on original music, we thought it would be creatively challenging to return to arranging music that’s not ours. We chose the songs together, arranged them together and got in the garage and played them together. It’s a distinctly different process than anything else we do and we feel we do it uniquely enough to take another stab at it after 13 albums and 16 years together.” Yes, and no it seems to me. For every one that works pretty well – Prince’s “The Beautiful Ones” recorded shortly before his death and TV On the Radio’s “Staring at the Sun” – there seem to be three that are ungainly or just don’t work at all. Yeah Yeah Yeah’s “Maps” becomes Free Jazz but Johnny Cash’s “I Walk the Line” and Barry Manilow’s “Mandy” are more clumsy than they should be. “Mandy” begins with an “every man for himself” approach that negates the song and the musicians and becomes a tempo rubato nightmare. The trouble, often, is drummer King who is simply not gifted enough as a “free jazz drummer” to improvise engagingly around and behind what pianist Ethan Iverson and bassist Reid Anderson are doing. I keep wondering how the pianist and bassist would deal with a Jack De Johnette or a Jeff “Tain” Watts – not to mention what they could have done with Paul Motian. (Jeff Simon)

Nori, “World Anew” (GoStop Music) and Catherine Russell, “Harlem on My Mind” (Jazz Village) It stands to reason that with so many jazz vocal albums coming out – especially female singers – that some of them are going to be beauties. It’s a simple matter of statistical probabilities. Throw in DNA made of liquid gold and it’s almost a sure thing. Even so, that doesn’t entirely account for how wildly infectious Nori’s “World Anew” is. I spent a couple of weeks unable to get it out of my machine. The band from Austin, Texas is described by those who feel the need as “jazz, folk, indie” music, but what you can’t get away from is the pleasure of hearing Nat Adderley’s granddaughter Akina sing so powerfully with trumpet player Erik Telford, who, unlike her usually muted grandfather, plays open horn almost all the time in a way that matches the singer’s lyric ecstasies. It’s that wonderful kind of original music that is every bit as gorgeous as it is original. Nor is she the only terrific singer these days with Olympian bloodlines. “Harlem on My Mind” is the newest record by singer Catherine Russell, the daughter of Luis Russell who was Louis Armstrong’s great arranger. She has a sound all her own – rich, full, trumpet bright but saxophone resonant and tinged with no small theatricality. (Listen to her trill her “R’s” and you know cabaret and Broadway are never far away.) But it’s her repertoire that’s irresistible. Familiar Great American Songbook beauties abound – “I Can’t Believe You’re In Love With Me,” “The Very Thought of You,” “When Lights are Low,” “You’re My Thrill.” But so are relative rarities – Irving Berlin’s title song, Clarence Williams and Eddie Green’s “You’ve Got the Right Key But the Wrong Keyhole,” Fatts Waller and Andy Razaf’s deliciously witty “Blue Turning Grey Over You.” The band is neo-mainstream – swing just up from New Orleans in sound. Her father would have loved it – that’s my guess. Ratings: 4 stars for Nori; 3.5 stars for Russell. (Jeff Simon)

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